The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2004)

ISSN: 1710 6915


Jo-Anne Willment

Jose Pereira

Jacqueline Lyndon

Heather Mahoney

The authors are researchers at the University of Calgary investigating the use of web-based learning applications for upgrading skills of physicians in remote locations. Dr. Jo-Anne Willment is a faculty member in the workplace learning research section of the Faculty of Education. Building on their work with other constituencies, Dr. Willment will be a presenter at the 2004 Canadian Association of Police Educators (CAPE) conference in Calgary in May, 2004. The work of Dr. Willment and her colleagues has been showcased at international conferences on adult learning and appeared in peer reviewed journals on continuing education and adult learning. The work done in this study is transferable to other working environments and is especially relevant to those police agencies embarking on web-based educational delivery models. Further information on their work can be found at


In January of 2002, researchers initiated a course for health care educators entitled An Orientation to Online Learning and Facilitation for Health Care Educators. This pilot course was managed and taught by faculty from the Division of Palliative Care, Division of Oncology, Faculty of Medicine and the Master of Continuing Education program in the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary. Learners included emergency, palliative care and rural physicians, and palliative care nurses and social workers located in diverse healthcare environments.

As part of the pilot, researchers included a pre-course and a post-course survey to capture the demographic information, initial familiarity with online instruction, satisfaction level, convenience ratings and degree of information transfer from completion of the course. As the target audience for the program was education providers, the surveys were designed to assess process as well as content.


Participants in the pilot program were from Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. A total of sixteen physicians, nurses and social workers with educational responsibilities provided completed questionnaires for analysis. Survey results were collected by the research team and compiled for consistency. Reports were generated from the comments made by participants and recommendations for future healthcare training were established as a result of survey findings.

The surveys were provided as part of the learning package. Participants completed the pre-course questionnaires prior to beginning the course work and the follow-up survey was submitted after the course was completed. The analysis and comparison of data from pre-course to post-course surveys allowed researchers to assess changes in the learners as a result of working through the on-line program.

The course delivery involved use of FirstClass software that was password and user ID protected so that researchers could verify the source of the data submitted by the students. The course was divided into seven one-week modules. The module headings were:

  1. Orientation, netiquette, guidelines and expectations
  2. Comparison of face-to-face with online formats
  3. Overview of adult learning principles
  4. Overview of online learning processes
  5. Online facilitation practices
  6. Online facilitation in problem-based palliative care medicine
  7. Closing activities and evaluation

Each student completing the course provided evaluative comments on each module to assess the suitability of learning-delivery processes to the subject matter.


The results of the questionnaire methodology are entirely qualitative. Comments from the surveys were used to develop recommendations for the future of educational delivery to this population.

Analysis of questionnaire results indicated that the course was useful in addressing Web-based needs within the workplace environment. Using experienced and proactive facilitators, offering week-by-week readings, introducing different forms of learning each week and using open-ended approaches to teaching, allowed learners to experience reduced feelings of isolation online.

Collaboration, support and suggestions created a three-way communication pattern within and across the community of learners, peers and facilitators. This was extremely useful as it is similar to the collaborative work that is crucial in palliative care. Offering flexible, learner-centred approaches, discussion as an alternative to non-critical judgement, and the use of best-practices as learning aids, were valued by the course participants.

Learners commented that the opportunity to collaborate online with peers and with facilitators presented challenges and increased demands on time and energy but improved the results of the learning experience.


A number of recommendations came from the analysis of responses from learners. These recommendations can be generalized to other adult learning populations.

  1. A series of on-line facilitator guidelines based on best practices should be developed for use by all program facilitators. This could include facilitation techniques, guidelines for developing and using case studies, and a philosophy for on-line learning that applies to health care workplaces.
  2. A modular course design will better enable courses to be customized and delivered in varying lengths, types and formats. Each module should be essentially self-sufficient including learning activities and outcomes.
  3. Preparation of facilitators to deliver on-line programs is critical to the success of Web-based courses. All facilitators should have on-line facilitation training prior to assignment.
  4. Advanced courses should be developed in on-line facilitation skills if future educational initiatives are to be delivered this way.
  5. Courses in group-based health care using Web-based discussion freeware can be developed and used effectively in this population.

These recommendations have been made to the University of Calgary’s Office of Continuing Medical Education and Professional Development for use in designing and monitoring new educational programs on a remote basis.